I woke up today in such a good mood. I slept well, my electronics were all charged up, my clothes all washed, and had memories of a fantastic day yesterday. I was up very early, and out the door while it was still dark…
Uggghhh. Rain. Very heavy rain.
Rainstorms in Florida pass in an hour or two. But not here. I was near the end of Asturias, and very close to Galicia, where it can actually rain for days. No biggie. It’s why I’ve carried around the extra 3# in my backpack. I went back into the albergue and slipped on my rain-pants, and jacket, both made of eVent fabric, a newer cousin of Gore-Tex – supposedly waterproof, but breathes better so I won’t get soaked in sweat. And this time I had also brought along gaiters, to keep the rain from dripping from my pants onto my socks and into my boots. I was ready.
And off I went.
I’m making good time until I realize that I haven’t seen a scallop or arrow “way-marker” in an uncomfortably long time, and it’s raining entirely too heavy to risk getting my phone out to use the GPS. I’ll trudge along for another mile or so and if I still don’t see any signs, I’ll turn around to retrace my steps. I hadn’t even gone another 100 meters when the trail simply ended. This path had clearly not been the Camino. I’d obviously taken a wrong turn somewhere in the past hour. So I turned around, and although I’m trying very hard to laugh at myself, it’s pretty difficult.
Goretex and eVent may well be “water resistant,” but they most assuredly are not “water-proof.” I’m now drenched through and through, and pretty miserable. I backtrack to the last visible marker and I can’t, for the life of me, see how anyone could know which is the correct route. There are several crossroads, and so many are conflicting that I begin to look for someone to ask. But there is no one to ask, and so I give it another best guess. This one is lucky, because within about another kilometer, I see regularly spaced markers, indicating I’m on the right path. Wishing I had someone to “high-five,” I look up and smile, lifting my hands for a different kind of salute. I’m pretty sure He’s glad I finally found the right path also, and it just felt appropriate to celebrate together.
The weary feeling is exhaustion – so tired and doubting myself, with morale slipping, and frustrated, almost desperate for affirmation. And then there it is. Hundreds of years old and pointing “the way.”
Just when I think no one else could really understand the emotions of needing so desperately to get a sign that I am going the right way, one of those light bulbs goes on over my head. It’s another metaphor for our life journeys; lots of people who have never worn a pair of hiking boots know this feeling. Guess I’m just a slow learner.
So anyway, 7 hours and 27 sloggy km later, I see the first hiker I would encounter today, and as I approached him from behind I was nothing short of astonished.
“Stefan! How the Hell did you get this far?” I reached for his hand and he almost fell onto me. “How are you?”
“Not very well, My feet hurt very badly.”
And how did you get ahead of me?
“Well, as I arrived yesterday in La Mesa, I realized I had only walked 29 km, and it was still pretty early, so I just kept walking, and there was nowhere to stay until I got to Grandas.”
“Yeah, but that 29 km was the hardest segment of any Camino!” I reminded him.
Stefan sheepishly replied that he really regretted it during the last hour. “So you walked 45 km yesterday, on the hardest day…”
“Actually it was 44, but I don’t know how I got ahead of you, did you sleep late?”
“No, but I did get lost for about 2 hours.”
Stefan began to laugh from the belly, the kind that is contagious to everyone around, “Did you go to the left just after Castro, as the path entered the forest?”
“Umm, yes…that’s exactly where I got lost.”
He kept laughing, because he had made the same wrong turn in the rain. “I saw the fresh tracks, and I followed to the left for a while, but when there were no waymarkers, after about 10 minutes, I turned around.” (That’s where he had overtaken me, because I stayed on that wrong path for probably an hour).
Another Camino metaphor: Don’t blindly follow another’s footsteps (especially if they’re mine!), when you, deep down know you’re on the wrong path – your inner compass is a better judge. When we simply follow where others have gone, we’re effectively walking in their boots, and not our own. They may not have a very good compass, or they might be ignoring it.
“Anyway, so why did you keep pushing forward? You told me you already had a few extra days to spend in Santiago, so why not pull back and take your time?”
Stefan stopped walking and looked at me, “You are my friend, and I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”
I was surprised. No, actually I was shocked. He would push himself through this much pain to see me? And now I was horrified, and embarrassed. “You’re on track now to get to Santiago on the 18th (his original plan was for the 19th). I actually leave on the 18th, so I need to be there for the Pilgrim’s Mass on the 17th. So in Fonsagrada, I must get on the bus again, to…”
“I know that,” Stefan said. “It’s fine, don’t feel bad.” I’m very happy that we met again.
“Let’s at least have dinner together, did you have lunch?”
“No,” he replied, “there was nowhere to eat!”
Realizing we were now in Galicia, I suggested we have pulpa (octopus), the specialty of this region. “I’ve never had it before, why not!?”
I was squirming a little bit when I saw the menu. Twelve Euro was reasonable for a four course meal featuring pulpa, but cash was low, and the sign behind the bar said, “Cash Only.” So I excused myself to use the restroom, where I could count my cash, and was relieved to see I had 24 Euro and about 40 cents. Perfect – of course I wanted to pay for his meal also.
By his facial expression and the food left on his plate, I’m pretty sure he thought it was disgusting, despite the fact that he said he liked it.
Now I really felt bad.
I asked the waitress for the check, and she looked at Stefan, then at me like I was from Mars, then back at him again, and he said, “I paid for our meal while you were using the servicios.” When I started to object, he cut me off. “Don’t say anything bruder, I’m so happy that I can help you.”
He remembered how cash strapped I am. My ATM password hasn’t worked since I got here, and so I’m limping along for 4 days on the $100 (74 Euro) emergency money I had brought, and he knows it’s almost exhausted. Funny his math was better than mine. If I had paid for dinner, I wouldn’t be able to pay for the bus!
And so the food didn’t seem to matter at all to him. We’re talking and laughing and telling stories, and remembering… as if I was 30 and a childhood friend of his from Berlin that he hasn’t seen in years.
Except we’ve known each other for almost exactly 24 hours. Camino time.
And so, once again I got on the bus, and he would walk on to the next town. The way he was painfully hobbling along, I knew he couldn’t go much further.
But it was sure good to see him.